Saturday, 4 July 2015

All a bit of a do

The Safari was at a summer fair entitled A Bit of a Do today and great fun it was too in the summer sunshine. Shame the gusty wind kept blowing all our leaflets all over the place despite being weighed down with a variety of objects like a lump of coal and a heavy bunch of keys.
In between chatting to the public we kept an eye out for any wildlife on the move. Overhead the local gulls were supplemented by just one Swift, this is the second nearest we've had to Base Camp about a mile away!
The rough field adjacent to the festivities was well worth a look in the lulls when folk were being entertained by activities on the stage. We caught a female Common Blue butterfly in a disposable drinks cup to show the children. A male was also out there with two Meadow Browns, Large and Small Whites and numerous Silver Y moths. A striking Emperor dragonfly also put in an appearance to the accompaniment of a Meadow Grasshopper.
There were plenty of Bumblebees were out too attracted by the plethora of wildflowers.  
One there we couldn't identify, we weren't sure if it was a wildflower or a garden escape even. Apparently according to our good friend and gardening guru KS it's Triteleia laxa known by several common names, including Ithuriel's spear and Grassnut. It is native to California where it is a common wildflower. Bonny looking thing where-ever it comes from.
Nearby was a tiny Wild Pansy, the only one we found despite wandering over most of the field.
But it was the clovers that were top of the bill. After trying in vain, maybe we were a week to early, at the nature reserve to find a couple of species recently there they were right under our feet in abundance today.
Hop Trefoil was the first we came across.
A little further into the field was a drier sparser patch that had lots of clumps of  Hare's Foot Clover

More mooching about had us finding a Kidney Vetch, a species we've not seen at the nature reserve for many years now.
Another sparse patch gave us find of the day, a single flowerhead of the now quite scarce Cornflower. A beauty! It's amazing what's in the seedbank if it's given a chance to show itself. Shame this area is earmarked for re-development. It was a school that was demolished and the ground leveled out and then had a thin layer of soil graded over it and subsequently left to its own devices.
Last but not least was a Speckled Wood butterfly that flew over our display table as we were packing up at the end of the afternoon.
A great day in the sunshine letting folk know how great our local wildlife is and how we really need to take up renewable energy much more that we're doing so far. 
Where to next? A family bereavement has forced last minute changes to whatever plans we may have had for tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know what was hiding in plain sight on a plain site in your outback.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Another dolphin day

The Safari has been a bit busy these last couple of days. We've missed some Bottlenosed Dolphins, we've been on the beach with another gang of Brownies but in the same place as the last post so not much different was found apart from a very nicely marked Blenny.
Best catch  of the day for the Brownies was reserved for just about the last dip of the net before packing up when one of them pulled out a small dark Eel-like fish, the first 5-bearded Rockling of the year.
We also had BD and Young Un AB (By eck he's not so young anymore - towers over the Safari he does) helping redesign and rebuild the work's bug hotel. Some time was spend looking for any inverts in the garden, pick of the bunch was this stunning freshly emerged Narrow Bordered 5-spot Burnet moth.
The tiny Deptford Pink wasn't out for BD's macro lens but three flowers had opened the following day.
Hope Little CV doesn't have those fingerprints on his database!
Yesterday we had an all day offsite Schools Science Conference so there was no opportunity for any wildlifing but we did take our big box of shells for the children to look at, it's amazing how few of them actually go to the beach even though it's no more than a mile or so away at the most from all their  homes. From the lab window we could see the Bowland Fells, no sign of any Hen Harriers well we were never going to see any anyway as the Establishment have made sure they've all been bumped off to a very devious masterplan. Please support this years peaceful protest Hen Harrier Day 9th August at several venues around the country.
Today we've been office bound and wasn't able to get out early doors. we did get out at lunchtime but it was dire. A wander round the garden was much more rewarding in the sunshine with Meadow Brown, Small Tortoiseshell, Large White butterflies and a Silver Y moth. Lots of bumblebees too, at least four species, a mining bee and a shed load of Grass Veneer moths and we heard our first work's Meadow Grasshopper of the year.
Back in the office we saw we'd missed a phone call, a quick email revealed we'd missed a pod of Bottlenosed Dolphins coming down from the north quite close in. B*gger!!! Not to worry a text alerted us to the fact they were still about not far to the south of us. Grabbing the camera and bins we dashed out but were (slightly) disappointed to see they'd now gone into the river channel and were well out of range for pics but still gave a great display as they fed actively. No matter how far away they are a Dolphin Day is always a good day.
There seems to be a bit of a pattern to their appearances emerging, not that they appear everyday. But to stand the best chance of connecting with them. They have been appearing to the north about half to three quarters of an hour after high tide then working their way down southwards - how many? Varies but between 6 and 30 according to reports - taking them about an hour to get from North Shore to us at South Promenade and beyond. Today they were quite close in for some of their journey south one of them being reported as being between the end of North Pier and the seawall!!! Well worth having a look if you can, we can't tomorrow as we're exhibiting at a summer fete.
Where to next? We'll be keeping an eye out for interesting wildlife at the fair, might even take a few pots in case there's something to show the kids.
In the meantime let us know who's just to bright red in your outback.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Pretty in pink and a lot of jelly

The Safari has been outside almost all day today. First of all with couple of Young Uns in the work's garden and then on the beach with one of the Young Uns and a gang of school children
In the garden we found a few moths while we attacked a small patch of old nettles, no caterpillars this year but any new growth from the roots may attract second generation butterflies. There were singles of Yellow Shell and Small Magpie but several Cinnabars which have been laying their eggs on the Ragwort and they have recent;y hatched so not yet got the signature black and yellow jumpers.
A rather fortunate spot low down at the edge of the patch of Fox and Cubs was a tiny flower of the extremely rare Deptford Pink...Always a relief to see it each year. 
Over on the beach in the afternoon the kids had a great time exploring the rockpools in the warm sunshine. When we were young we seem to remember the oldies saying a very good summer's day was 70C (21C) it was that today and it didn't feel overly hot. 75F (24C) was almost unheard of, it's likely to be close to that tomorrow and 80F (27C) just didn't happen or might have done once, it won't quite make that on Wednesday.

Juvenile flatfish, Sole?

Octopus aka Barrel Jellyfish - a small one

A big one wouldn't fit in this tub, nearly as big as a black bin bag!

Common Prawn with a juvenile Sandeel

Common Prawn with a Brown Shrimp

Common Prawn with a Sandeel

Sandeel and Brown Shrimp


Small Spotted Catshark mermaid's purse
Where to next? More exploration of the work's garden and another evening with the Brownies on the beach
In the meantime let us know who's wobbling like jelly around your outback.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Who's got all our moths?

The Safari was more than a tad disappointed with our mothing this season, there just doesn't seem to be many about at all around here. Last night seemed like it was going to produce the goods, it was warm and muggy but with a moderate wind, however it wasn't really that bad and we had high hopes for a decent catch this morning. 
It wasn't to be, opening the trap this morning we only had three Heart & Darts, the first Dark Arches of the year and a Eudonia mercurella micro along with something that escaped.
Frank had a swimming session this lunchtime and on the way back we stopped at a small town centre supermarket for some odds n sods for lunch. As Wifey was finding a car park space a Brown Hawker dragonfly, our first of the year, whipped over the car bonnet - quite a long way from the nearest suiutable habitat. 
This afternoon we should have done some gardening in the jungle but got too easily sidetracked with the macro lens when we spotted a few Red Spider Mites scuttling about on the lid of the coal bunker. They're tiny and double quick and refuse to keep still so make quite a difficult target for a lens with very little depth of field.
And they have an almost featureless face!
Those little legs don't have cover the ground, they're here there and everywhere and barely stop to draw breath.
Something made us look up and we're glad it did as there was Great Black Backed Gull (Garden #32) flying over which just about gave us time to get the macro lens off. A really scarce bird over Base Camp, this is the first since at least 2010!
A Supermarine Spitfire also flew over but it was traveling a little faster than the gull and we missed it...good garden tick though! It was then that we noticed the enormous Prickly Sowthistles that were in full flower when we were tending to the moths earlier had now gone over and the feathery tips of the pappuses (is that a word?) were showing, one day wonders.
There's three of these impressive beasts and even the smallest towers over us and must be well over two metres tall.
Our Tree Bee colony in the kitchen roof must be coming to an end as there's been quite a few crawling around on the floor in need of rescue. We've gently lifted them up and put them on the jasmine plant with their companions but it was probably in vain. We didn't get a pic in the end. Instead we concentrated on the several Blue Tailed Damselflies that were flitting around the pond.
On the marginal vegetation we found some exuvia
How did the adult clamber out of there?
We had a play with the macro lens.
We're undecided about putting the moth trap out tonight, half the weather websites we've looked at say it's going top rain the half don't. The way our moth luck is going we can guarantee if we put it out it'll pour down and if we don't put it out not a drop will fall.
Where to next? could be a safari out n about somewhere tomorrow.
in the meantime let us know who's whizzing around non-stop in your outback.

Friday, 26 June 2015

What goes round comes round

The Safari has been explaining to the youngsters for many years now that all life on this planet is interconnected, usually as part of the food chains and webs they have to study. We have told them that making one species extinct is like cutting a  thread that holds us up and if we're not careful and we send more species to extinction then another thread is broken and another...until the rope snaps and we along with everything else comes tumbling down. Last week it was announced that the planet is in the midst of the 6th great extinction with background rates far in excess of what would be predicted and it looks like it's humans causing the problems.
A cartoon spotted on Twitter illustrates our metaphor in a slightly and maybe more dramatic way.
Gratuitously nicked from Twitter - apologies to the original artist

The Extinction Symbol below very quickly needs to become as widely seen and as instantly recognised as the Coke or Nike logos. You can download it free for non-commercial use from their Flickr site
How many of you have seen it before?
One of the problems facing wildlife is invasive non-native species which get a foothold and out-compete or predate the natural flora and fauna, there are countless examples from all around the world but we found one with the children recently, Wireweed, the seaweed from the Pacific Ocean. One way to perhaps control these invasive species to reduce their impact may be to find a use for them and over-harvest them like we do with many other species. Not sure if Wireweed grass skirts are the way forward though.
Yesterday we were able to have a late start at work due to an evening meeting so we had a look at the sea at Patch 2 for much longer than normal finding a bit of a feeding frenzy which had attracted a good number of gulls about 20 Manx Shearwaters and a few Gannets, best of all was a Harbour Porpoise which was very active and hard to spot, second guessing where it was going to surface next was nigh on impossible so we only got a few fleeting glimpses as it rolled but fleeting glimpses are much better than no glimpses at all.
We then had the plan of visiting two or three sites we've not really had time to visit properly for a while to check them out more thoroughly. First up was the nature reserve but not the orchid end, we've not been down the east end for a while so gave that a go after a good chat with AH in the new Visitor Centre which is looking very smart and will be 'officially' opened amid much pomp and ceremony very soon.
We set off for the bridge and once across it hadn't gone more than a few paces when we heard a Water Rail screaming from the reedbed. Not a sound you hear often here during the summer months, we wonder if they have bred again...'twud be nice! The warm sun and lack of wind meant we were well overdressed but we persevered. There weren't many folk out and the bird song was surrounding us as sweetly as Sedge and Reed Warblers can sound sweet. We were on a mission to find Hop Trefoil and a few other species of plants we didn't see at the other end of the reserve on our last visit and had a tip off. Before we got to the location we had yet another look for Bee Orchids on their 'usual' place but hadn't been seen there yet after the winter construction works. And there was one poking its pink flowers through the denser vegetation a little further from the path than we'd been looking on earlier visits.
A search for any others proved fruitless but a call from BD later after we'd told him of our success said there were several others too. There was a good bit of our favourite meadow 'tool; too; Yellow Rattle a hemi-parasite that does o great job of weakening the grasses which allows more 'interesting' wildflowers to flourish.
From there we had a wander down the brand new path to the Panoramic Hide where a screen is about to be constructed for viewing when the hide is locked. A recently predated Pigeon probably abandoned by a disturbed Sparrowhawk, lay close to the path but we not seen any raptors at all.
Then we had a mooch across the new plateau made from the scrape excavations. The ground was dry but we thought there must be some wetland species coming up from the seed bank and it wasn't long before we'd found a few that we've not seen for a good while. In recent years the generally persistent wet weather has kept water levels high so there haven't been prolonged drop down margins for the marshy plants to appear. We'd already been 'warned' about Celery Leaved Buttercup and it didn't take long to find plenty of it.

Also there was the bluey grey Marsh Cudweed
and the very pretty but not really a wetland plant Common Fumitory.
This plant is more of an arable weed than a wetland species but it was good to see it in some numbers. If the area doesn't vegetate up too thickly too quickly then it should be around setting lots of seeds for a year or two more yet.
We did find our Hop Trefoil, only to discover once photographed that it's Lesser Trefoil, the former has a more Pineapple shaped cylindrical flower than this. Ah well an excuse for another visit!
By now it really was summer and we were  totally over dressed and sweating cobs. Butterflies fluttered and damselflies flitted as we checked the track edge for more Bee Orchids and Hop Trefoil without success. We looked for Yellow rattle alongside the path to the Viewing Platform but couldn't see any although the wildflower display there is going to be awesome in a week or so when the Hardheads open. Looking down the mere from here we could see the far end was a mass of pink from the flowers of Amphibious Bistort so we went on a mission to get a pic. By now we realised we were running short of time and wouldn't get to the other two sites and might not even get to work on time! Putting on a bit of a shimmy we reluctantly bypassed the Marsh Orchids and butterfly zone and didn't stop at the hide to look over the water but did notice the Snake's Head Fritillary meadow had grown up like a jungle.
At the bottom corner we couldn't see the lovely Amphibious Bistort through the reeds where the kiddies feed the ducks but were relieved when we got to the small platform which s just high enough and the reeds less dense to give a bit of a view...not the full monty we'd hoped for but still impressive.
Almost all the bottom fifth of the mere is covered with a pink haze, it's worth the visit just to see that!
Some of the joggers get round the circuit in a few minutes we had taken a little over two hours and still not had time to do the site justice we missed so much in our mad dash round the second half. So slow down take your time and look closely, the wonders and the beauty are right there in front of you.
Back at work we spotted a small solitary bee on a patch of Sea Campion but haven't a clue which species it is so we've asked all round bee-meister and jolly good fellow @RyanClarkNature for help.
Where to next? nothing planned for the weekend but anything could happen.
In the meantime let us know who's put in a welcome reappearance in your outback.